Protecting High Quality Rangelands in Garfield County from Invasive Weed Spread
Weed-free rangelands are an ecological and economic benefit to everyone who utilizes rangelands. They provide decreased cost of production and increased carrying capacity for livestock producers, native habitat for wildlife and native plant and grass species for recreationalists. Garfield County Montana is comprised of 70% rangeland used primarily for livestock production, and the vast majority of it is free of noxious weeds. County landowners are intent on maintaining the rangelands in their current state without any noxious weeds!Widespread noxious weed infestations have not historically been a problem in Garfield County due to the county’s remoteness and lack of bisecting waterways. Over the past 10 years, noxious weed occurrences have increased in the county as they have in much of Montana. The increased occurrences can be attributed to: increased vehicle traffic on the bisecting highways, increased hunter activity on secondary roads and private roads, and increased reliance on out-of-county hay. The general increase in noxious weeds across the state and the lack of interest or recognition of their impacts by the general population seems to have increased the transportation of noxious weed seeds from areas of high noxious weed densities to Garfield County. In an effort to maintain the current low or non-existent noxious weed levels in Garfield County, the Weed Prevention Area (WPA) concept was developed. Large contiguous acreages have been included in the WPA with many of the landowners working jointly to scout for new weed threats. The principle behind the concept is to limit new infestations by increasing private landowners, hunters and other visitors’ awareness of the detrimental impacts of noxious weeds to the environment. In addition to the awareness message, landowners are encouraged to routinely monitor their private and leased lands for new weed infestations and work aggressively to eradicate any noxious weeds they located. To assist the landowners in tracking the weed-free status of their lands, GPS technologies have been employed to map current weed locations and to verify locations and acreages of non-infested lands.
The primary objectives of the WPA project in 2007 were to:
Provide weed prevention information to the landowners/managers
Promote an awareness campaign
Establish a baseline number of acres of weed- infested lands within the WPA
Develop baseline maps of the area
Control infestations along egress routes to the WPA
Provide means to control new local weed infestations
Provide the means for landowner to monitor their land for new weed intrusions
In 2007, reviewed the goals and strategies of the Garfield County WPA. They received WPA brochures for their own use and disseminated the brochures to recreational land users. Signs delineating the WPA have been posted at primary ingress locations and on access roads to the primary ranch buildings. Approximately 75,000 acres of rangeland were monitored for noxious weeds to develop maps and a baseline value of noxious weeds within the area. The small infestation of Russian knapweed treated in 2006 was evaluated in 2007. No additional control efforts were needed. The location will be re-evaluated in 2008. Several new salt cedar infestations were detected and controlled along the northwest boundary of the WPA. The protocols developed for monitoring noxious weeds in 2006 were used in 2007. The weed scout used a 4-wheeler to cover the area and carried a mobile GPS unit to record the entire route covered. All locations with a listed noxious weed were recorded as a unique point and the weed identified in the GPS. The data were later downloaded and maps have been created to show the areas that were monitored. The data will be analyzed to determine the extent of weed infestations and, over several years, monitor and evaluate weed trends. Data recorded will be used as a baseline for the WPA of weed presence and will be used to help determine if more weeds are entering the area over the years. The goal is to show long-term trends in weed spread or the lack thereof, providing proof to the effectiveness of Weed Prevention Areas. Participating ranches have received GPS units for employees or owners to carry and mark any new weed infestation they come across in their daily ranch activities.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In 2008, approximately 25,000 acres were added to the baseline map numbers. With the addition of these acres, a total of close to 75,000 acres have been verified as noxious weed free. The baseline maps are a very important component of the project. They represent a means to measure the long-term effectiveness of weed prevention and will provide documentations of weed locations. Signs are being made for all the participants. The signs will be posted along entry routes or roads to each ranch. The signs indicate the ranch is part of the WPA and assist in raising weed awareness. Availability of manageable sized spray units has been a concern of many landowners within the WPA. Two commercial grade utility sprayers have been purchased and placed with participating land owners. The units have been used by many of the ranches to control remote weed infestations.
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